Val McDermid’s The Wire in the Blood 20th anniversary

It is twenty years on from the publication of the Scorpion Press collector’s edition of Val McDemid’s The Wire in The Blood. The collectors edition appeared on 23 October 1997 and all 99 copies quickly sold out. Wire was the second in a sequence of psycho-thrillers with clinical psychologist Dr Tony Hill working with DCI Carol Jordon. Soon after an ITV television series followed. Critics saw it as a mixture of ‘Cracker’ and ‘Prime Suspect’. Here are some thoughts on the authors creative progression.

The previous novel, The Mermaid’s Singing (1996) brought McMermid the acclaim that came with the CWA Gold Dagger for best crime novel. It was the first in the Hill and Jordon series. But I hesiate to call it a series, for Val does not like to write by pushing buttons. The follow-up to Wire was five years in the making. She would want to write in other ways and forms in the meantime.

Indeed, Val had previously tried various forms or sub-genres of crime. Her first series with sleuth Lindsey Gordon was published by the Womans Press and although Gordon was a socialist-feminist the plot form were basically tame whodunnits; the next series with PI Kate Brannagan were more Chandler than Christie. The new crime editor at HarperCollins, Julia Wisdom advised a break into new territory. Less whodunnit and mystery, more suspense and characters with contraditions.

I had worked with Julia when she was crime editor at Gollancz and published a collectors edition of Robert Richardson’s Sleeping in the Blood (1992). Robert was another crime writer whose novels changed from whodunnit to psychological whysdunnit. Again, I believe under Julia’s influence. At Harpercollins she also edited one of Britain’s cleverest crime writers Reginald Hill. She would tell me just how brilliant the new Reginald Hill book was. She was right – in the 90s his books got better and better. Scorpion published four vintage Hills.

It was very fitting therefore that we asked Reginald Hill to write the appreciation for the Scorpion edition of The Wire in the Blood. He knew all about Val McDermid’s creative talents, from “pacey plotting, sharp characterisation, quick-fire humour, incisive style, compulsive page-turnability, it’s always been clear that she is a natural born thriller writer”. It is good to mark the 20th anniversary of a book that is compulsive and daring as any in is way as any other crime novels of our time.

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